Abraham Lincoln once said, “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six hours sharpening my axe.” Honest Abe and I see eye-to-eye on this, but as I’ve often said, simply knowing what to do is never enough. It’s the matter of actually doing it that makes all the difference.
After speaking with a sales manager last week, I wondered, “How would Honest Abe’s philosophy apply to sales management today?” I’ll let you decide. Here’s what this manager said when she was talking about quality prospecting:
"I don't have time to pull everyone together to focus on valid business reasons and securing better appointments with new prospects. Right now, I need everyone focused and working hard. We had a soft January, and February’s pending numbers are not where they need be. So we don't start the year off too far behind, I've challenged everyone to work harder than ever before. I know that we can do it… we just need to put in the extra effort!"
My first thought is that she certainly isn’t the first manager to find herself stuck in this precarious situation. You may have felt this way too. On one hand, stepping away from “working hard” for training or planning feels wrong. But, on the other hand, we know that when we focus on strategies like a valid business reason and when we use proven techniques for securing better appointments, we do, in fact, increase the type of work that leads to quality pending and eventually, sales.
My conclusion is we are addressing the wrong sales issue. Everyone in sales today is working hard. Everyone is doing their very best. Everyone hungers for success! The problem is not the lack of effort, but rather the shortage of skill development and the failure to identify the bottleneck in the sales process. When we fail or fall short in the development of our sales people, we prevent their hard work from paying off for them. And, there’s only so long that a seller can work hard and not get results before they explode with frustration.
We owe it to our sales people to focus their hard work on the right activities so they can enjoy some much-deserved return on their effort.
Here are a few ways to do that:
- Go in the field with your sellers and look to see where they are having great success and where they are not.
- Establish a sales dashboard that will provide you with past performance measurements as well as the leading indicators specific to activities that you know to produce results in the future.
- Study your sales process. Find, select, approach, define, solve, confirm, and deliver. Look for areas in which you can apply additional focus on skill development to realize significant improvement.
The bottom line is that taking your salespeople off the street to focus on skill development that they don't need is a big waste of time. But failing to invest your time on the skill development they do need will lead to frustration and a lack of success.
If you are looking to increase your sales revenue, establish a rock-solid talent bank, decrease key account attrition, or grow target account revenue, and your solution is simply to WORK HARDER, you must stop the craziness. Instead, spend more time sharpening your axe—or in this case your team’s skills—so they will be more prepared to use their strengths to achieve success.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published on April 6, 2016, and has been updated.